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For the Philadelphia tourism industry, the consummation devoutly to be wished has arrived at last.

The reopening of the Rodin Museum last weekend, its original character sensitively restored, completes the longed-for “museum mile” along the Parkway that tourism promoters hope will prove to be an irresistible magnet for the culturally motivated.

The Rodin, the new museum of the Barnes Foundation next door, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few blocks west certainly create a destination worth a special journey, as the Michelin guides would put it.

The question now is whether this new synergy will benefit all three museums, particularly the Rodin. Despite the French sculptor’s exalted reputation, it doesn’t attract nearly as many visitors as its counterpart in Paris, which draws about 700,000 annually. (The Philadelphia Rodin Museum’s biggest year since 1996 was 2002, when 63,523 people came. Average annual attendance during the decade beginning 2001 was 51,123.)


Ed Sozanski
The Inquirer


The original Barnes Foundation, in Merion

When Judge Stanley R. Ott ruled in 2004 that the Barnes Foundation’s collection of paintings and sculpture, worth billions, could be extracted from its Merion home and remounted in a new building downtown, the Barnes set out to replicate the original galleries, in scale and configuration, exactly.

This much now is an accomplished fact. And yet, as the new Barnes Foundation opens this weekend, everything is different.

Gone forever, of course, is any claim to authenticity. Whatever the Barnes of 2012 and beyond becomes, visitors will never again have the same fully prescribed experience, the powerful feeling of being led around the museum by the hand of its founder.

Current Barnes leaders are careful not to use that word: museum. They call the new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway a campus. The Barnes, however, is a collection of art that the general public may see, at generously set hours, in exchange for the payment of money. That is what is universally recognized as a museum — something different from what the Barnes started out being. McBarnes, its most indignant critics are calling it.


Peter Dobrin
Philadelphia Inquirer

The new Barnes Foundation, in a new shell in Philadelphia (Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

The Barnes Foundation’s move from suburban Philadelphia to the center of the city caused art lovers lots of worry.

Devotees of this great polyglot collection, heavy with Renoir, Cézanne and Matisse, which the omnivore art shopper Albert C. Barnes amassed between 1912 and his death in 1951, were appalled by the idea. Barnes spent years obsessively arranging his installation cheek-by-jowl in the mansion in Lower Merion, Pa., that he built for the purpose and opened in 1925, and he stipulated that, after he died, it should remain exactly as it was.

In 2002 the foundation’s board — constrained by limits on attendance and public hours imposed by zoning restrictions — announced plans to relocate. Many people, including a group that sued to stop the move, were sure that it could only desecrate this singular institution.

Others, myself included, did not object to the move per se, but felt that faithfully reproducing the old Barnes in the new space, as promised by the trustees, was a terrible idea. To us it seemed time to at least loosen up Barnes’s straitjacketed displays, wonderful as they often were. And why go to the trouble of moving the collection to a more accessible location when the galleries were not going to be any bigger?

And yet the new Barnes proves all of us wrong. Against all odds, the museum that opens to the public on Saturday is still very much the old Barnes, only better.


Roberta Smith
New York Times

Albert C. Barnes, surrounded by his collection. The residual presence of this prescient connoisseur and progressive liberal will be lost in the transition to the Parkway.

Six more weeks is all you have for a final infusion of “tranquil respite,” something you’re not likely to experience next year on the Parkway. Your farewell tour will be especially poignant because Merion’s second floor has been closed since the first of the year.

July 3 won’t initiate a simple geographical transition, a brief hiatus in operations as the fabled art collection is trucked eight miles across the city line.

This isn’t, for instance, like the Whitney Museum of American Art moving from uptown Manhattan back downtown, which is supposed to happen in a few years. The closing of Merion not only marks the end of an era, it also represents a radical transformation in the nature of the institution. In the process, the essential spirit of the place – its genius loci – and a good deal of Albert C. Barnes as well, will be left behind.

Barnes Parkway will resemble Barnes Merion in some respects. The 23 galleries are being replicated, so if you were led in blindfolded you wouldn’t immediately notice a difference, except perhaps for ambient traffic noise.

The Replica also will better accommodate the public for things like parking, shopping, and getting lunch.

But the Replica (or, if you prefer, the Faux Barnes) will be a different institution, a museum with members instead of a school. No more strolls through the Merion arboretum (the “tranquil respite” component) and, most important, no more historical context.


Edward J. Sozanski
Philadelphia Inquirer

It was a gorgeous October day, and some of the foliage in the Barnes Foundation’s arboretum had shaded into amber. The last roses of the season were in bloom. Chrysanthemums lined the drive. There were plenty of other flowers, too, but I didn’t know their names – no more than a typical Barnes visitor knows the titles of the unlabeled masterpieces that hang, salon-style, in the gallery here.

This was to be my last visit to the old Barnes, a place I had come to know well. The Merion institution created by Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) is being replaced, in part, by a museum slated to open on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the spring of 2012. The 12-acre arboretum in Merion will remain a laboratory for the foundation’s well-respected horticultural program. But the Barnes’s unparalleled collection, along with its art-education classes, will move to the new building downtown, with more amenities and presumably more visitors to enjoy them.


Julia M. Klein

Albert C. Barnes decreed in his will that his $6 billion art collection would never be moved. After years of legal battles, it’s now scheduled to relocate in 2012. (IFC Films)

To whom does art belong — museums or the public they ostensibly serve? More interestingly: From whom should art be protected? “The Art of the Steal’’ is a fascinating, maddening documentary that addresses these issues with a mixture of clarity and agit-doc disingenuousness. The movie’s never less than entertaining, but you often feel like arguing with the screen, and not in a good way.

The subject is the Barnes Foundation, an educational art institution in the suburbs of Philadelphia that houses one of the greatest troves of paintings on the planet: 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses; Picassos and Monets and van Goghs, oh my. The Barnes holdings would be considered priceless if price weren’t very much the subtext of the current battle over where they belong. The paintings have been valued at over $6 billion. You’d better believe price matters.


Ty Burr
Boston Globe

The carriage house at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was razed to make way for new museum buildings. (David L. Ryan/Boston Globe)

The Barnes Foundation, a charmingly intimate museum in Merion, just outside Philadelphia, has been trying to move itself for years to a more prominent location. It has not made a lot of friends in the process.

Founder Albert C. Barnes was a major crank and patent- medicine magnate who died in 1951 leaving strict orders on how he expected his art to be hung in the rooms of his mansion. Those orders had to be followed by Manhattan architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, who must also duplicate the rooms in which the art was hung.

The Barnes teetered at the edge of a financial abyss for years, but it has doggedly raised cash and run a long legal gantlet in pursuit of the risky move. The foundation insists it is essential to bring in more visitors and expand giving.

The architects’ proposed design retains the dignity of the Barnes current home in the new location on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. To keep the 93,000-square-foot structure from dwarfing the 12,000 square feet of replicated exhibition space, Williams and Tsien use a high light court to separate a low limestone rectangle housing the collection from the rest of the structure…

Meanwhile, in Boston, the beloved Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum sees misplaced salvation in a Renzo Piano addition. Gardner, a flamboyant art patron of the Gilded Age, placed 2,500 items — starring Titian, Raphael and Rembrandt — in a gawkily proportioned faux Venetian palace, where her wayward taste and bizarre display sensibility at once charm and appall.


James Russell

Robert Venturi (Photo credit: George Widman, Associated Press)

Robert Venturi, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect and lifelong resident of Philadelphia, has written a stinging letter in opposition to a controversial plan to dismantle the suburban Barnes Foundation and relocate its unparalleled collection of postimpressionist and early Modern art from its specially designed 1925 building to a new, tourist-friendly structure near downtown.

The schematic design for the new building is scheduled to be unveiled Wednesday in Philadelphia.

In a letter to opponents of the move obtained by The Times, Venturi decries the $200-million project as “an indiscrete and ridiculous waste of money.” The celebrated architect is the most prominent cultural figure in the city to publicly oppose the plan, which was initiated by a powerful group of local philanthropies, politicians and business interests.

The Barnes collection in suburban Lower Merion Township includes 69 paintings by Cezanne, 59 by Matisse, 46 by Picasso, seven by Van Gogh and scores more by Renoir, Degas, Modigliani, Soutine and many other Modern masters. They were acquired in the early 20th century by pharmaceuticals manufacturer Albert C. Barnes, who died in a 1951 automobile accident.


Christopher Knight
Los Angeles Times

At a packed hearing, the Philadelphia Art Commission gave unanimous approval this morning to the overall design concept for a new Barnes Foundation building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, virtually clearing the way for construction to begin as early as November.

The $200 million museum, designed by New York’s Tod Williams and Billie Tsien to house the unsurpassed collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, will be located on a 200,000-square-foot site between 20th and 21st Streets.


Stephan Salisbury